Amazon Records Highest Rate of Deforestation in 15 years

Deforestation in the Amazon increased 21 percent from 2020 to 2021 and is more than double what it was a decade ago.

Jan 4, 2022 12:49 PM EST
By Brittany Artwohl

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The Amazon rain­for­est is the largest in the world and a vital part of the global ecosys­tem.

Known for its lush bio­di­ver­sity, rain­forests play a crit­i­cal role in weather cycles, mois­ture reg­u­la­tion and seques­ter­ing car­bon emis­sions.

Deforestation con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate our emis­sions, with an upward trend in the very year in which Brazil should start meet­ing Paris Climate Agreement tar­gets.- Tasso Azevedo, researcher, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates System

However, large areas of the rain­for­est are clear-cut every year. According to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), there was a 22-per­cent increase in defor­esta­tion rates in the Amazon from 2020 to 2021, the high­est rates in the last 15 years.

In the first 10 months of 2021, defor­esta­tion in the Amazon rose to 13,200 square kilo­me­ters, an area slightly smaller than Montenegro or Connecticut.

See Also: E.U. Moves to Block Deforestation-Derived Imports, Including Some Palm Oil

New data from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates System (SEEG) and the Climate Observatory also show that Brazil gen­er­ated gross national emis­sions of 2.16 bil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent. Compared to the 1.97 bil­lion tons in 2019, these num­bers have alarmed many cli­mate experts.

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The destruc­tion of the Amazon rain­for­est is esti­mated to account for the 9.5‑percent increase in green­house gases recorded in 2020 by the Climate Observatory and rep­re­sent the country’s high­est level of emis­sions since 2006.

Deforestation con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate our emis­sions, with an upward trend in the very year in which Brazil should start meet­ing Paris Climate Agreement tar­gets,” said Tasso Azevedo, a cli­mate expert coor­di­nat­ing the SEEG study.

The Paris Climate Agreement, stip­u­lat­ing the need to keep the global tem­per­a­ture rise below 2 ºC, was approved in 2015 and is sup­ported by 200 coun­tries.

The 2019 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change land use report said that pro­tect­ing and restor­ing rain­forests is urgent,” a word the orga­ni­za­tion uses spar­ingly.

The World Wildlife fund esti­mates that 17 per­cent of the Amazon has been destroyed in the past 50 years, mostly due to cat­tle rancher expan­sion.

Next year’s pro­jec­tions from INPE pre­dict that defor­esta­tion will con­tinue as tim­ber sales soar and ille­gal log­ging con­tin­ues to pose a threat to gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tions on cut­ting.

Despite Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s attempts to down­play the real­ity of the destruc­tion, the dam­age is not hard to see. Images from NASA’s Aqua satel­lite demon­strate the steady loss of forests from 2010.

Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and has pri­or­i­tized the econ­omy over the envi­ron­ment. He says that defor­esta­tion claims are overblown and assured that 90 per­cent of the Amazon is still pre­served.

Some activists worry that Bolsonaro and his allies may solve the polit­i­cal headaches gen­er­ated by ille­gal defor­esta­tion by legal­iz­ing it.

If all defor­esta­tion is legal, then you have zeroed ille­gal defor­esta­tion quite suc­cess­fully,” said Suely Araújo, a senior pub­lic pol­icy spe­cial­ist at Observatório do Clima, a civil soci­ety coali­tion focused on cli­mate change.

Bolsonaro has also con­sis­tently claimed that the Amazon belongs to Brazil, ignor­ing the var­i­ous sec­tions that belong to indige­nous peo­ple who have lived in the Amazon for time immemo­r­ial.

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He denies any threat to the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of more than 800,000 and the 450 asso­ci­ated ter­ri­to­ries across Brazil. When ques­tioned at the United Nations General Assembly, Bolsonaro dis­missed alle­ga­tions of dam­age and bashed what he called sen­sa­tional report­ing.”

Using and resort­ing to these fal­lac­ies, cer­tain coun­tries, instead of help­ing… behaved in a dis­re­spect­ful man­ner and with a colo­nial­ist spirit,” he said. They even called into ques­tion that which we hold as a most sacred value – our sov­er­eignty.”

Despite the lack of urgency with which Bolsonaro has addressed the issue, cli­mate activists received some hope from the con­clu­sion of the COP26 cli­mate sum­mit in November 2021.

The world’s forests were at the fore­front of global dis­cus­sion, with del­e­gates from 133 coun­tries sign­ing an agree­ment to reverse defor­esta­tion by 2030. Brazil’s del­e­gate was among the rep­re­sen­ta­tives to com­mit to global for­est restora­tion.

More hope for oppo­nents of the Brazilian pres­i­dent may be com­ing in October 2022. Former pres­i­dent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is rumored to for­mally announce a pres­i­den­tial run in March, with one recent poll giv­ing him a 27-point advan­tage over the incum­bent.

Lula gov­erned Brazil from 2003 through 2010. Under his gov­ern­ment, defor­esta­tion in the Amazon rain­for­est fell sub­stan­tially. Among Lula’s cur­rent cam­paign planks is to re-estab­lish Brazil as a lead­ing voice on envi­ron­men­tal issues.

Together with the European Union, we [South America] could form an eco­nomic bloc, a bloc with sim­i­lar polit­i­cal posi­tions, with sim­i­lar envi­ron­men­tal views, to face up to the two giants… the United States and China,” he said at a recent rally.


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